Just another day in Paradise.

Just another day in Paradise.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Recap.

Snowstorms, power outages and breaking trees is probably what we will remember this January for, but we had a few other things going on as well:

Ben - Saw his name in print, not once, but twice, this month in legitimate medical journals. Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Largynology* and Journal of the Sciences and Specialties of the Head & Neck** (you may know it just as Head & Neck). Pick yours up on news stands today.

The one unfortunate thing is the cover of Annals (if this one actually made news stands I'm pretty sure it would be up high and have black plastic over the cover image) I don't know what this is a picture of, but I have narrowed it down to being anatomy in either the ears, nose or throat***.

He also got to go snowboarding as a work field trip:

Avery: Turned 8 right before our very eyes, without asking if this was okay with us. She also performed in a winter violin recital. I will put this in a seperate post due to pictures and video.

Miles: Started taking real piano lessons. Is pretty convinced he can play almost anything. He cannot, but we do not run short of confidence in this family. He also taught his old mom how to play chess.

The picture of Miles up top is by Sara. To see more of him enjoying the sand and surf go here.

Cruz: Conveniently naps during violin and piano lessons. All other times he can be found moving chairs and stools around the house so that he can climb cabinetry. He has already found my chocolate stash. Both of them. Has an obsession with Star Wars. He even thinks that the baby swings at the park are some type of stormtrooper girdle. He also called 9-1-1****. Then he hung up, but they called back. Interesting thing to note, that even after I gave them the explanation for the misplaced call, they asked if anyone was preventing me from speaking to them. Hopefully I'll never have to use this information but I'm glad to know that they are sophisticated like that.

Me: I don't know what to report other than I did start the year by getting pulled over but not getting a ticket. The officer claims it was because I didn't have my lights on (it was late afternoon which I guess does make it dark here, but I also have daytime running lights. okay it was raining too), but I am pretty sure he thought I was drinking or texting while driving. I was doing neither, nor was I speeding, but I did have to turn around and grab an iPad that was causing problems just a few seconds before, so my driving might have resembled someone in altered state. The first thing he said when he approached my car was, 'oh, I didn't see you had kids in the car' *****. As if that explained everything. He didn't even ask for proof of insurance or registration. The kids lost all technology privileges for three days (I didn't want to punish myself for too long).

The highlight of my month, however, had to be when the UPS man stepped in the door to drop off a large box and said, 'you stay in good shape for having so many kids, woman', just as Ben was walking down the stairs. It was probably awkward for about two seconds, but as soon as he left, I immediately went and placed another order online.

Britt: Not to be outdone by a simple encounter with the delivery guy, Britt had to go and appear on SportsCenter. Over and over and over again. Below is a picture of Britt and her boyfriend Eric and my dad at a recent Clippers game where Blake Griffin dunked, excuse me, posterized****** Kendrick Perkins. So not only was she at the game, she was directly behind the goal when it happened. She doesn't look that impressed Blake. Looks like you'll have to do better next time.

Photo courtesy of ESPN's Sportscience.

*Novel Use of a Suction-Irrigation Device to Remove Impacted Blood Clot from Airway.

**Original report of bilateral carotid body tumors with 2 rare concomitant anatomic findings, an ectopic parathyroid gland and cervical thymus. Wha?

*** Correct answer - Vocal Folds

****He actually had just pushed redial because we had reported a fire in the power lines during the snow storm.

*****Like I drive a station wagon for the heck of it.

******Word of the Month (I had to look it up): a Basketball term meaning to embarrass some one usually while slamming the ball over them. It refers to the guy who's being dunked on in basketball posters. (Source Urban Dictionary). I was pronouncing it all wrong in my mind.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Winter Recital

Avery had her first recital since she started taking individual lessons. Her repertoire includes such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Lightly Row, Happy Birthday, God is so Good, Silent Night and the song she chose to play in the performance, Jingle Bells. She got a little mixed up and played one part twice, but it's Jingle Bells, I'm pretty sure it kinda goes that way anyway.

So without further ado, Avery Gale, newly age 8, playing a song called Jingle Bells:

Her reaction after watching the video back..."that was horrible".

Friday, January 27, 2012

Uncle Ken.

Tomorrow my family is gathering, not for Indiana chili and two-buck chuck, which is what they should be doing. But instead to reflect on and celebrate a life that was full, but undoubtedly cut-short by the pernicious cancer melanoma. A little over six months ago, he was fine - busy, hardworking, adventurous, and always kind. Then what started as a lingering cough turned miserable, made even more miserable by treatment resulting in the physical and emotional exhaustion that only fighting for your life can bring on. And before any of us were even able to get over the initial shock of the diagnosis, were were having to face saying goodbye. Even now, I still hold out for the possibility that there has been some mistake made and that Ken will walk through the door with a fresh caught albacore, ready for his expert preparation with his ultra-sharp kitchen knives.

Although I have heard that it took my aunt Robin quite a bit of persuading, Ken was a great addition to our family and a person you would always want to talk to when occasion would bring us together. Ken was super friendly, but not in overt or annoying way, he knew a lot about a lot of things - deep sea fishing, real estate, travel, tending avocados, cooking (I'm certain that it was from him that I learned to use water and not milk in omelets and scrambled eggs) and many other things I never learned because proportionally, time spent visiting with him generally involved him doing more listening than anything. Few people have the talent of being a really great listener and conversationalist, but Ken was. It didn't matter if you were in high school or a newlywed know-it-all or a stay-at-home mom, he was actually interested in hearing and knowing what was going on. And while good parenting runs in our family, he was an exceptional example of fatherhood and my cousin Tate had a great friend and mentor in his dad. Through Tate, and the rest of the family, Ken's best qualities, experiences and hopefully recipes, live on, as he would encourage and champion us to do.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Warm Feet.

When Miles came in from playing outside, this is what he was wearing under his boots. Seven pairs of socks.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Power outage.

What do you do when you don't have electricity for 55 hours? Good old-fashioned blogging:

The aftermath:

The kids couldn't play outside because of the cracking and tumbling branches. My espaliered apple-trees were toast, as well as a giant rhododendron that the kids loved to climb. But now we have lots of firewood!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reading May 2011 - Jan 2012

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids - Carol McCloud: I can't say enough about this book or concept. It's a great way to teach kids about kindness and maximizing their own happiness by spreading it to others using the metaphor of bucket filling and emptying. Also a great reminder to adults.

Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins: I know I am way behind the curve on this one but it is my current obsession. My sister gave this book to me for Christmas and said, "trust me". A few pages in one night, I knew this book would present a problem to my shut-eye. So I held off till the morning. Never have I been so excited to get up and get Avery off to the bus. I then brought the boys into bed with me so that my body heat would keep them asleep and I proceeded to read till it was over. I took one break to make them brunch when they woke up at noon, then they were promptly plopped in front of a television until I finished at 2pm. It took me a few days to shake the feeling that I was part of this story. I still wish I could have thought this up. If there is anyone left who hasn't read this, you have until March before the movie comes out. One of the jacket reviews touts that this book is "perfectly paced". That's probably the best way to describe it. It's easy to read, intense, wildly entertaining, tragic, gripping with bonus points for keeping it clean. Target audience - teenagers - or middle aged white women who drive station wagons and get the occasional speeding ticket.

Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand: Oh man, this story was gripping as well. But true. I listened to this one on cd when we were travelling around California, and while my usual go-to for long drives is talking to Ben on the phone (hands-free of course), what I really wanted to do was find out what was next for Louis Zamparini and his World War II compadres. This one will also be made into a movie, no trailer yet. Sharks, sociopaths, Billy Graham...this story has it all. Ben also listened to this one and it almost made his commute enjoyable.

What Would Google Do? - Jeff Jarvis: Someone at work recommended this to me. It was boring. Maybe if I was currently in a management position it may have some value, but I didn't find that it inspired anything beyond what one might come up with intuitively.
I wish I could make the picture of the book smaller.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother - Amy Chua: Wow Amy Chua, you are crazy, woman! But I love it. If she was submitted as a tribute for the Hunger Games she would survive, I'm sure of it. This Yale law professor/author/tiger mother has seriously high standards for her children. Sure, we all think we are whipping our little ones into shape, but compared to her techniques I might as well be letting my kids stay up late watching Netflix on the iPad, sleep in till noon, eat peanut butter out of jars and marshmallows out of bags and sign their one page of homework off without even glancing at it to see if they did it right...er...but it's cool as long as they practice 5 minutes of piano and I fawn all over their slaughtering of a simplified Imperial Death March, right? Amy Chua has her kids redo their homemade birthday cards to her if she feels that they did less than their best. But guess what, she has a daughter at Harvard. You can read an excerpt here. Interesting note: For bookshelves in China the title was changed to : Being a Mom in America. :)

Designing with Succulents -Debra Lee Baldwin: Pretty, pretty succulents.

Sugarsnaps and Strawberries - Andrea Bellamy: Great for any level of gardener with any size of garden.

Spousomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage and Dirty Dishes or How to Maximize Returns on the Biggest Investment of Your Life. - Paula Szuchman & Jenny Anderson: Hmmm. I'm on the fence on this one. I like marriage and I like Econ, so I enjoyed the premise. The chapters are organized into common economics topics- Loss Aversion, Division of Labor, Game Theory and I think it is a fun and novel way to look at relationships...I just feel like it fell into the traps that lots of books and even more movies do too often - by inserting excessive foul language and a general sexing up when unnecessary. Some things are worth taking to heart and applying but overall I'm not sure how qualified the authors are to offer some of the advice and think that some of it may have harmful implications.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life & I'm a Stranger Here Myself - Bill Bryson: At Home was my introduction to Bill Bryson. I picked this book up at the library off the shelf. It's long but chock-full of fascinating history of the components and activities of various rooms of a home including but not limited to: the kitchen, the fuse box, the garden, bedrooms, bathrooms, attic, nursery and drawing room.

The Victorian time period being ever so formal but rife with scandal makes it perhaps the most interesting of times to read about, although we can be made to appreciate modernity on multiple occasions. And if we thought our current supply of produce was toxic one of my favorite passages in the book talks about how cherries could be made to glisten afresh by being gently rolled around in the vendors mouth before being put on display. How many unsuspecting ladies of quality, he wondered, had enjoyed a plate of luscious cherries that had been 'rolled and moistened between the filthy and, perhaps, ulcerated chops of a St Giles's huckster'? It's a long book but the good news is that you can jump around to that which interests you and not get lost.

Since I really enjoyed Bryson's wit and style I picked up a couple of his other books and read the fairly short I'm a Stranger Here Myself about his experience coming back to the U.S. after living in England for 20 years. Not as jam packed with info as At Home, but okay. Basic premise - we drive everywhere.

Be a Successful Property Manager - R. Dodge Woodson: Made me realize that I do not want to be a property manager.

What's Gotten into us? Staying Healthy in a Toxic World - McKay Jenkins: Alarmist without being alarmist, Jenkins basically breaks down our basic environment - home, food, body, lawns and the amount of chemicals we are surrounded by everyday. I enjoyed it, but I am into worrying about stuff like BPA, PCB's, phlalates, dioxins etc. I probably don't recommend this book for most, because if you do read it you will have no choice but to escape into the wilderness naked and take your chances with the wild animals. So I won't say anything else, but the inside of microwave popcorn bags are covered in Teflon, which I'm not sure mixes well with heat. And most chemicals have some sort of immunity from testing for health implications. Cheers!

The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis: I'm a C.S. Lewis fan. I just am.
I am in awe of his skill with allegory and frequently enlightened by his symbolism. In this book I was astounded by his grasp of both humanity and divinity and darn it if I didn't get a glimpse of myself here and there among the inhabitants of his hell (which thankfully is more like purgatory). As with most Lewis, one page might be the most you can handle at a time. So many quotes of course, but my favorite comes from the preface, which alone is worth the read: Even on the biological level life is not like a pool but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.

First Things First - Kurt & Brenda Warner: I picked this book up when the kids and I were at Barnes & Noble and when it was clear that they wanted to stay a while. Warner had recently been in the news advising Tim Tebow to tone down the religious rhetoric (speaking from experience), so I was interested in knowing more about his story. I was surprised at how good it was. Basically it's about their family and the values and goals they have. Both Kurt and Brenda take turns writing about their history and how they make their family work. Surprisingly candid and relatable with some good advice.

Heaven is For Real - Todd Burpo: It's been a while since I read this book, and I sense that the skeptic in me has had time to set in. But if I recall my perception when I read it, I think that the story is incredible and that the details are moving if not amazing. Everyday I make a choice to believe in God, heaven and all that abounds therein, so why couldn't it be for real? And I don't know the title but I recently saw another account that seemed similar to this little boy but the encounter was under different circumstances.

I would be interested to know what anyone else who has read this thinks. It's a very quick and interesting read. Can easily be read in one sitting.

Radical: Taking back your faith from the American Dream - David Platt: Of all the books recorded in my book journal, this one has multiple pages of notes. The author is a pastor of a mega church in Alabama - which caused me to instantly and unfairly judge him as a televangelist who makes major bucks off of his followers by giving them a very entertaining weekly show. Which he very well may make a lot of money and be charismatic, but it's what he does with his church, his money and his life, and then challenges those reading the book to do, that is remarkable. He starts off by changing the premise of his church, saying that a mega-church with all of it's comforts is not what God asks of his disciples, and furthermore that Christ was the pastor of the first "mini-church" and that like Him, we should have material concern for the poor and spend time in another context, away from our big homes and comfortable churches. Platt recounts some great examples of people in his congregation that do so and impact lives in a major way locally and to all corners of the world (specifically China, India, Darfur and Indonesia). The problem with this book is that it is challenging and makes you uncomfortable with your comforts.

Edible Landscaping - Rosalind Creasy: Great resource for integrating a garden into your landscape. Encyclopedia of plants included. Great photos.

Bossypants - Tina Fey: Mostly funny, sometimes tedious, or maybe the reverse. Bad language which never earns points with me. I had two favorite parts. One was her "prayer for her daughter" (If you click on the link, be prepared for some of that language I mentioned). The other favorite excerpt is: About the current beauty ideal. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall (bum)…the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll (boobs). The person closest to achieving this is Kim Kardashian , who was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.
That, I thought, is funny.

Stories I Only Tell my Friends - Rob Lowe: Rob Lowe is a good writer who has lived a fascinating life. I didn't know anything about him and I picked this book up b/c our library was having a/c issues and they only had a few kiosks of books available for checkout. So I got this, Bossypants and Stolen Life. All of them have the "F" word, but I think I have belabored my disapproval of this already. His stories about growing up in Hollywood were really interesting and I enjoyed his writing.

A Stolen Life - Jaycee Dugard: A major downer, of course. I didn't know that she was tazed to facilitate her kidnapping and that scares me as a mother.

Instant Physicist: An Illustrated Guide - Richard Muller: Everything you ever wanted to know about lasers, bio-fuels and radioactivity but were too dumb to understand! This book is really fun I thought and was full of interesting info like on pg 104 - If the sun blew up we wouldn't know it until 8.6 minutes after because that's how long it takes for it's light to reach the earth. And pg. 110 - Organic foods are higher in poisons and carcinogens that foods grown using pesticides. Typically the natural pesticides in organic foods are thousands of times more carcinogenic than artificial pesticides approved by the USDA - and they can't be rinsed off. I don't know what to believe anymore.

I Don't Believe in Atheists - Chris Hedges: Even though I get that it's a joke, I don't love the title of the book because it is offensive, but I did love it's cute little size and gold cover and I thought the content was good. The author observes two radical and polarizing sides debating faith and religion in the U.S. - fundamentalists and atheists. I have a few notes but it's been so long since I read this that they are cryptic to me. I think this quote came from the book, "Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind." And also something to the effect that it's not what we do in life, but what we do with what life gave us, enduring with compassion, wisdom, humility and accepting the ambiguity and ultimate mystery of existance. I may have to go back and read this again b/c I think I liked it but can't remember specifics.

Lights Out / Sex, Lies and Menopause - T.S. Wiley: I can't remember what turned me on to this author but I checked both of her books out at the library and I thought they were great. Basic premise - Get adequate, if not abundant sleep (in complete darkness) and if you are going to eat sugar and stay up late do it in the summer when the days are longer. She also has a lot to say about bio-identical hormones. I thought that these books would be smart reading for any woman, regardless of age.

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that changed America - Erik Larson: This historical fiction novel about the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago is riveting. Larson intertwines the lives two men: one a doctor and murderer, the other an architect in charge of designing and carrying out a huge undertaking in the World's Fair. It took me a few tries to get into this but I'm glad I stuck it out. I was even reading this when we went to Chicago last spring so it was fun to explore some of the architecture in the book. This took a long time to read but I am excited to read Larson's next book about Nazi Germany.

It's You and Me Lord: My Experience as a Black Mormon- Alan Cherry: This book did not end up in my hands organically as many of my eventual reads do. In fact, I'm not even sure that this book is still in print. I ordered this book used as a part of interest and study in the experience of Black Americans in the Mormon church that came about mostly through discourse and disagreement with Ben. Good read, interesting experience and testimony, especially considering the time period he joined the predominately white church. What I have found of greater and continued interest is the Sistas in Zion website and the Genesis Group.

Friday, January 6, 2012

10.5 in Pictures


In honor of our tenth anniversary (back in July)I have compiled a new cd commemorating the occasion. A volume two to our wedding album*. On this one** the songs either are personal favorites, inside jokes or have artists that hail from one of the six states we have lived in (plus a Canadian or two for good measure) or are just great songs of love. If you want one, let me know and I will mail it to you (that's one of the perks of having only a handful of people follow your blog :))

I guess now I can start working on the next decade's volume. If we don't make it, I have a great break-up disc ready (thank you Adele).

*Original Wedding Album:

You're Mine - Richie Valens
Surfer Girl - Beach Boys
By Your Side - Sade
Let's Stay Together - Al Green
Thank You - Dido
Happy Together - Turtles
Rapture - Anita Baker
Under My Skin - Frank Sinatra/Bono
Wonderful World - Louis Armstrong
All My Life - KC and JoJo
Chapel of Love - Dixie Cups
All My Lovin - Beatles
Wifey - Next
Wouldn't it be Nice - Beach Boys
Glory of Love - Chicago
Meet Me at the Alter - Jagged Edge
Forever & Ever Amen - Randy Travis
Being Around - Lemonheads
Dyer Maker - Led Zepplin
Guantanamera - Celia Cruz
Poison - Bel Biv Devoe (Lovingly dedicated to Ryan Westbrook)
Sonata in D - Handel

** Anniversary Album:

Better Together - Jack Johnson
U Smile :) – Justin Bieber
Henehene Kou’Aka - Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole
Would You Go With Me – Josh Turner
Love, Love, Love – Unwritten Law
The Luckiest – Ben Folds
Satellite – Eddie Vedder
Lucky – Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat
You & I – Michael Buble
We Close our Eyes – Oingo Boingo
Need You Around – Smoking Popes
I Have a Date - The Vandals
Drop Baby Drop - Sean Na'auao
A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow – Mitch & Mickey
You are the Best Thing – Ray LaMontagne
Psycho Killer – Talking Heads
Our Love is Here to Stay – Blossom Dearie
Baby – Neon Trees
Fort – Recess Monkeys
Beloved One – Ben Harper
Baby – Neon Trees
Our Love is Here to Stay – Blossom Dearie
Liebestraum - Liszt

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012! / 2011 Recap

I am ending 2011 with my erase board calendar stuck in September, 359 unread emails in my inbox and owing $2.55 to the library (total fines paid this year: $23.15). Nevertheless, I will skip ahead and join the rest of the world in 2012 and enjoy the chance to start afresh...but let's review 2011 first, and save me a lot of singular back posts (or inspire some):

Ben - Sometime in spring the husband formerly known as Ben became "Divorced Dad", named so because, he lived in his own apartment, provided mostly only financial support and made up for his lack of presence by being super fun, taking the kids for treats and buying them things outside of our norm. And when staying at his place, had things like ice cream topped with cereal for breakfast (may I suggest carmel pecan with honey bunches of oats...)

In July and probably the highlight of his year, he shook Eddie Vedder's hand at a concert in Seattle.

Avery - Started 2nd grade, continued learning violin.

Miles - Learned how to swim and ride a bike.

Cruz - Learned how to walk and speak.

(Britt - One up's Ben's Eddie Vedder encounter and attends a wedding where Magic Johnson is a guest...as well as Kenny G.)

Me and/or us - It was a good year for work and for play - It's a buyers market (thank you historically low interest rates (3.75%+/-), so I had a fun year negotiating and brokering home sales. I also had a chance to reprise my days as a "business analyst" (not necessarily the right term but it was my job title, "indentured servant" may be more appropriate) for my first employer out of college, when they brought a Chinese delegation through Los Angeles.

For fun we hit up Belize in March, Chicago in April, Lake Chelan in July and San Francisco in September. And the kids and I took up residence in California from late October to early December (We also started the year there in January). From there we hit the central coast, beaches in every coastal county in So. Cal, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. You just aren't living until they freeze your credit card for being in too many places in too short of a time. And you are grateful when they freeze your credit card when someone uses it in Brooklyn then Norway and you are nowhere near either of those places.

So that about sums up the year, looking back on it no wonder why it zipped by. We never took a moment to catch our breath. Just how we like it.

What are my wishes and hopes and dreams for the new year? (Besides fewer parking, speeding or red light camera tickets...please please please (make that 6 pleases) Last year was about not looking too far into the future, so as not to enjoy the here and now. It's easy to yearn for days of not changing diapers or making school lunches but when those days are gone they are gone, and furthermore the future will be filled with unseen/unpondered challenges of it's own I am certain. So this year I will build on that live in the present philosophy with another that spoke to me through a banner at the YMCA. It was one marked RESPONSIBILITY and referred to the verse in Ecclesiastes about whatever it is that you find to do, you do it with all your might.

Although I'm a bit worried that this will hinder my multi-tasking abilities, I do think that it will be efficient and rewarding. And it goes hand in hand with the only real resolution I made this year, which is to be a better cook. I like to cook; I like the creativity involved and of course I enjoy the end result. Unfortunately however, the last few years I have let Trader Joe's and Costco a lot of cooking for me. I appreciate that we have sophisticated convenience foods, but I need to hone some basic techniques and learn how to make a sauce for goodness sake. Other ways I will employ this idea - better workouts at the gym, more thorough teeth brushing, and being a more attentive parent - anywhere that I presently spend time out of necessity or desire may I improve my performance. That is my wish for 2012. Let the fun begin.